NHS crumbling in Con-Dem Britain

Ross Saunders

Warning signs flash red as the most critical NHS services gallop towards disaster but Prime Minister David Cameron steams ahead, regardless.

Anyone with eyes to see realises that the crisis in the health service is about to reach a new level of intensity. NHS England has reported an alarming increase in Accident and Emergency (A&E) department waiting times. Shockingly there’s been an 89% rise in patients left languishing on trolleys for between four and 12 hours before being treated over the last two years.

In Wales, over 2,000 people waited an incredible 24-hours or more before they were seen in A&E last year.

Monitor, the body which regulates the NHS in England, warned that even in the summer the NHS saw pressure on its services, previously only seen during winter months.

There is no denying that more people are seeking hospital treatment than in the past, with admissions up 47% over the last 15 years. Big business politicians and their echoes in senior NHS management roles are scratching their heads, feigning bafflement, but the cause of this pressure is obvious, it’s cuts and privatisation.

In both England and Wales nothing is sacred, there are no red lines protecting even the most essential services from the austerity axe.

The pressure on A&Es is a result of the brutal slashing of services in other parts of the NHS and in other public services. The closure of 53 24-hour walk-in centres has funnelled patients directly to A&E departments. Without a sustained campaign of opposition, the problem is set to get worse; many more could close when their contracts are up for renewal in 2014.

If you listened to the government and health bosses you would think the pressure was down to greedy poor people who just can’t get enough of trips to hospital. Services are “too convenient” said one trust!

The other excuse for cuts is to “end duplication of services”. But employing more than one doctor is the duplication of a service; so is having more than one nurse, more than one hospital bed… This is just management-speak for reducing capacity, for cutting beds or staff or shutting facilities.

The intolerable working conditions for those left in understaffed workplaces is creating a downward spiral that is a big part of why fewer young doctors are choosing a career in emergency medicine. More than half of specialist registrar posts in A&E have been left vacant.

Another cause of the A&E staffing shortage is privatisation. Lucrative opportunities to make profits in other specialisms were opened up in our National Health Service by the last Labour government and the current government have pulled those cracks wider.

Ed Miliband’s opposition to Cameron over the damage being done to the NHS in England is feeble, not least because in Wales the Labour-led government, which has responsibility for health, has brutally slashed funding so that the service is on the verge of collapse.

Many people in both England and Wales are paying the highest price for the absence of a party that will stand up and fight for services.